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Zite is a pretty cool way to follow the news

As a news junkie, I just can't get enough information. I adore Pulse, and I think Flipboard is interesting and useful. Like most of you, I spend a lot of time checking out news sites and using apps like the New York Times and the NPR app.

Enter Zite. Zite is a just released free iPad app that constructs a magazine around your interests on the fly. When you first launch it, you suggest topics you like (Photography, Science, Technology, etc.), and then the magazine is created using RSS feeds and links to news and other sources. Some of the sources are well known, others are not (at least to me). You can also enter your Twitter name and Google Reader account info to further tune the personalization, although neither is required, and I didn't do it for my evaluation.

The result is that you get a lot of content by discovery that you might not ever see. You can tell the app that you like a particular news source or author and click on some automatically generated key words. Over time, the content of your magazine shifts to reflect what you are reading and liking. You can also tell Zite what you don't like to further shape the future content.

The on-screen pages look very nice. They are easy to read, and the content gets more space than it does in Pulse. You have some limited, but helpful, control over the font style and size. Every story has a sidebar that allows you to rate it so that Zite understands your interests. When you launch Zite, a page of top stories appears. Over the last few days, I've noticed Zite adjusting the content to things I've been most focused on.

There are some negatives. I don't have enough control over eliminating stuff I don't like. In the pets topic, I chose birds as subject matter, but I got dozens of stories about Angry Birds. I told Zite that I didn't like those in the Pets section, but it still insists on putting them there. They are slowly going away, though. Another issue is that once you select sections based on your interests, you can't change the order of those sections. I also think Zite doesn't respond quickly enough to my likes and dislikes. Over time I can see the mix of content change, but I'd like it to be faster.

I talked with Ali Davar, founder and CEO of Zite. He acknowledged that the app would be getting more responsive, and that version 2 will allow control over the sections. The app will eventually be ad-based, and the ads should be relevant to and in context with the stories you are reading. The company has a clear privacy policy, and it is available to read on the app itself. Zite does not sell your personal data, and it tracks what you read (because that's the way personalization has to work), but it doesn't associate your name with the data. They do not share your name or email address with third parties. In fact, you don't need to give Zite an email address to use the service.

I find I am using Zite multiple times a day. While RSS feed based apps like Pulse are fine, they don't include the discovery of information that Zite pulls off so well. Some people will complain that you can't add RSS feeds on your own to Zite, and that is true. There are, of course, lots of apps that do that, and Zite is something different; it focuses on content itself more than specific sources. On the other hand, you can tell Zite you like a particular source, and it will continue to appear. Think of Zite like Pandora. It knows what you are reading and creates a magazine that exists only for you.

The GUI is lovely, and the app will surely improve. If you're hooked on news and information, I suggest you download Zite and see what you think.

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